Thursday, December 2, 2010

"With great big swirls, you step inside into a starship headed for the skiiiieess!" My review of the first half of SGU season 2

Wow, it's been ten weeks since SGU kicked off their second season after one heck of a cliffhanger. So how was it? The first ten episodes of the second season were, by far much better than the entirety of season one. Though, to be honest, season one was and always will be known as this show's very rocky beginnings. With the only exception being the episode "Time" which had been my favorite SGU episode until now.

Season 2 kicked off with a big shocker of an episode as the Lucian alliance took over Destiny and kicked most of the military personnel off the ship. With a handful of scientists led by Dr. Rush (of course) to try to take back the ancient vessel. We were treated to a strange vision of TJ having her baby be "taken" by the aliens who supposedly built a planet back in season one. Though the premiere ended with the very predictable solution of everyone getting back on board the ship and continuing on the unknown path set out by the seed ships.

Then we were treated to some very interesting episodes that focused on Rush's discovery of the master code and the bridge. Though it was obvious that Rush would keep this secret (cuz that's what Rush does) it simply didn't make much sense. Sure he wanted time to uncover more mysteries about Destiny's purpose before others had a chance to beat him to it, but in the end what did it ultimately serve him? He was discovered, beaten up, and lost yet more credibility to his name. As a guy labeled a "Machiavellian scientists" the ends simply don't justify the means when it came to hiding his discovery. And Rush's thinking that he couldn't trust Col. Young on the grounds that he was mentally unstable was kinda silly coming from a guy who was arguing with his dead wife at the time.
Which brings us to the biggest game changer of the season and one of my new favorite episodes: "Trial and Error" (which claimed "Time"'s no. 1 spot as best SGU episode in my list). Here we were revealed that Destiny is doing more than just being a little stingy with the countdown clock, it's very much aware of our reluctant heroes and is beginning to influence them with strange visions and programs in an attempt to "test" them. This fact made Destiny a much more mysterious "character" almost becoming like Lost's island in many respects (once again I am calling out similarities between these two shows). It also allowed us to look into the minds of what I felt was a very under-utilized character: Col. Young. It was this episode that made him feel like an actual human being underneath the gruff uniform of command. By this point it was obvious the stress of his job on Destiny was affecting him in visible ways (his drinking habits being a main focus). Though this was a step in the right direction, "Trial and Error" took this sub-plot and ran with it churning out one of the best episodes of the season. Much like Stargate Atlantis' "The Shrine" it was the human aspects that drove the plot (Young's internal struggle with being the leader everyone needs, McKay slowly losing his mind and the team's struggle to deal with the inevitable result of it) and not a cheesy cliche plot about alien invasions or strange god-like beings.
Which brings me to one complaint I had about the first half of this season. The aliens. Last season Destiny faced a seemingly malevolent force of aliens who kidnapped Rush and Chloe. Of course it was expected that we'd run into dangerous aliens but why not some friendly ones?
At first the episode "Awakening" proved very promising. We were shown what a stargate seeder ship looked like, which expanded the mythology that the show has been lacking for the most part by the time this episode aired. However, in a twist, it turned out that there were aliens on board this seeder ship who, at first, seemed very friendly. They were adorable looking aliens, and I was actually very happy about this because not every alien in space has to try to kill you (remember ET?). Yet, sadly, this didn't last long, and we were stuck with what felt like another alien enemy for our wayward crew. Which is why I was happily surprised when the aliens returned in the mid-season finale to save the day with the help of Col. Telford (who I was sad to see leave in Awakening). The explanation that the aliens were just a desperate group of people trying to find an advantage against their powerful enemy (mirroring the very similar situation SG-1 and Atlantis faced with the Goauld and Wraith). I felt that it was about damn time aliens weren't interested in blowing up the Destiny. I mean, seriously, if you were a space faring race who came across a group of explorers who traveled from a galaxy billions of light-years away wouldn't you want to help them and get to know them? I would.
Though their very questionable actions later on made me very disappointed, I honestly don't blame them. After all, Young planned on double crossing them. Just because they saved Destiny doesn't mean they aren't flawed like most of the people on Destiny. In either case, I do hope that we get the chance to meet a more friendly race later on, there's only so much space battles I can take...
Then there are the Lucian Alliance prisoners. Goodness I was hoping that they would have been handled a little better. I liked Varro's (Mike Dopud) thinking: We need to work together, since we're both practically stranded out here. However, Young gets rid of the problem completely by ditching most of the Lucian Alliance on an abandoned planet, which I can understand, it's not worth all the trouble. Yet he keeps some of them, though most seem to be harmless and more than happy to help Simeon was one who I felt was shoehorned in to create some drama in a later episode. In fact by the time he killed Gin I didn't know what his name was. Why did Young keep this ticking timebomb on board? Because Stargate Command told him to. Which brings me to another problem I feel has been hurting the show: the fact that we don't know if Destiny's crew is actually stranded or not.
This is a thought I feel has been forgotten in these episodes whether it be because of the communication stones or some other reason. It doesn't feel like Destiny and her crew aren't far from the Milky Way. Remember the first season of Atlantis? There was no going back after stepping through the gate, no way to communicate. That was it. You're on your own once you step through the puddle. That is what SGU should feel like but doesn't. I remember back in season one when they learned that Rush had a tracking device in his heart. There was tension in the fact that there wasn't a fully capable medical doctor on board to do the surgery. TJ is a Medic, and the only anesthesia they have came from the critters in "Time." You definitely get the feeling that they are on the other side of the universe at that moment. Then the tension is quickly removed when they use the stones to call up a doctor.
Of course this makes sense, and I like how the surprise disconnection of the stones reapplied the pressure right in the middle of the surgery. But you never feel like these people are on their own. However, you'd figure that they'd be using the stones to do something like bring people who actually should be on the ship fixing things, or bring in psychologists to help people deal with their problems. Which I think would make perfect sense considering the fact that the writers seem like they don't intend on getting rid of the stones any time soon.
Of course it sounds like I'm being hypocritical, saying I want to feel isolated but believe it's a good idea to keep the stones. No, I'm saying that if you're not going to have the feeling of isolation then stop making it feel like they're on their own. Have more people show up to fix or at least teach the people on board how to fix and run the ship (teach a man how to fish and you feed him for life, kind of stuff). Use the fucking crap out of those stones if you insist on keeping them around! Atlantis wasn't afraid of maintaining connection with Stargate Command after they got a ZPM, so why is it that these stones aren't being treated like the true lifeline that they should be. The best use of the stones I saw this year was when they brought Eli's mom on board. It served many purposes: It showed us a window into Eli's pain as he struggles to accept life on board ship, it gave us a heartwarming scene with Eli telling his mother the truth thus helping Eli with his stress, and it also made Wray more of a sympathetic and caring character and less of an IOA bureaucrat. Since that episode I've come to like Wray more and more because she has actually done something nice for others instead of being very self-centered.
Eli himself has definitely shown some interesting character development as we were shown a window into his depression and loneliness. We saw this through Gin, the Lucian Alliance girl, as she poked through his documentary. This was an excellent way to peer into the heart of a character who we've seen be used most often as comedy relief or completely left out in most episodes. Which brings me to another problem: Eli's relationship with Gin. Which started just as suddenly as it ended. I mean sure it was nice to see Eli finally get some after running around Chloe like a drooling dog for the first year of the show, but there was no lead up into this relationship. It was like: (we both like math, let's f**k!). Sure I liked how it kinda helped when Gin saw Eli's video about his being lonely, but right afterward they start to make out. Which I felt like she instigated out of pity for the genius she admired, and not the budding beginnings of a sweet romance. The suddenness of this "romance" only detracted from the impact of her death in "Malice." I felt more bad for Rush and Amanda Perry (who I loved in season one) than for Eli and Gin. Though I have to admit the fallout from that has definitely taken a toll on poor Eli, which I like to see even if it felt like a one night stand.
Of course this romance plot did allow for some great stuff with Greer who we see in full friend mode for Eli here leaving them to be alone so he can make his move. I've always loved Greer for his no-nonsense attitude, but his helping Eli out in the love department made him feel like a really nice guy you'd regret not being friends with. Though I felt that his constantly bumping heads with Simeon was going to build up to a climactic stand off between the two, instead we were treated to some Lone Ranger Rush action. Which I didn't mind much, but with the already established tension between Greer and Simeon I was hoping he would have been the one to pull the trigger and not Rush.
Then there was Chloe's transformation, which was hinted at in season one evidently, I didn't catch it until I went back and watched "Lost" where she could suddenly read the alien language. As for the overall plot about her transforming I find only mixed feelings for it. Of course I feel bad for Chloe, she's becoming less and less human as time goes by, but I also feel like her gaining superhuman powers was an attempt to make her more useful when in all actuality she was pretty much useless to begin with. What I liked about this is that she is a perfect representation of most of the people on Destiny: the wrong person for the job. Which I felt was a great source of drama and story. This was prevalent in the episode before "Lost" where she admits to studying Dr. Jackson's notes in an attempt to be of some use and not dead weight. This gave her character a depth that I hadn't seen before, just from this statement I had the feeling that she realizes that she can't be sitting around doing nothing until the big wigs come up with a way to dial the gate back to earth, she has to pull some of the weight. This is one reason why I felt that the whole transformation plot wasn't truly needed. There was already drama right there before she was infected. However I do like the conflict that this has caused between Young and Lt. Scott. The commander and the woman he loves. It seems like the show is hinting that one day Scott will have to choose his job or his woman, and what will the consequences of that be?
Though now I'm wondering if her being infected will play a bigger part in the future, obviously the finale left us wondering what the hell she was doing on the console as the ship was being shot to bits. Is she going to find a way to bring the blue aliens back to Destiny, like a sleeper agent? Will she be forced to make a similar sacrifice like the one her father did? Or will her new found powers prove to be the key to unlocking the mystery behind Destiny's mission?
Which brings us to the most interesting revelation this season: the truth about why Destiny was launched. Though Rush made it very cryptic, it sounds like Destiny was launched to gather and decipher the pieces of a hidden code written into the very fabric of the universe itself. A code that was found, by the ancients millions of years ago, to be as old as the universe itself. What does this code represent? The message left behind by the creator of the universe? God? The writers of the show? The question to the answer of Life, The Universe, and Everything? The real explanations for the mysteries of Lost? In either case, color me interested, and I hope we get the chance to at least unlock a piece of this universal puzzle by the season's end.
Overall the first half of Season 2 has left a far bigger impression than most of Season one. Bringing a couple truly magnificent episodes and some very lackluster ones as well. Though I say the show still hasn't found it's footing, it's definitely got a few toes on the ground. Hopefully the rest of the season will promise more human stories, adventure, and mythological expansion than just alien battles and hammy drama. Only time will tell...

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